Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey has been cleared by team and US Soccer medical staff to play matches. This seemed to be the case throughout all of Seattle’s preseason so far, especially considering that he played a part in both of the team’s friendlies in Tucson. He’s also been one of, if not the, most impressive player in most of the Sounders training sessions since they began preseason work last month. But the player himself finally confirmed his clearance to play on Tuesday, saying that he’s “85-90% back to full fitness.”
Dempsey said that it was tough to be out for as long as he was, and that it was probably the longest he had ever been out with a medical issue. “I was out for like 5 months, the only other long time I was out was about 8 weeks. It’s tough being out, but at the same time I’m pretty blessed in terms of, throughout my career, not having missed too much time.” He said that the issue with his heart started about a year ago, and that as the season progressed it started to bother him more and more. The Copa America tournament, in which Dempsey was playing with the US national team, turned out to be tipping point for his condition.
A notably private person, Dempsey confirmed that he was suffering from “a heart issue,” but declined to be more specific about his affliction. “I don’t really want to go that much into it, it’s my business. I’m cleared to play and I think I had the proper time to be out that I needed to be out and I’m feeling good now.” Dempsey also declined to describe his specific symptoms, just saying that he was “feeling more stuff” later in the season that forced him to seek treatment.
Just like Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey stressed last season, Dempsey said that the team’s medical and training staff are on the same page with US Soccer medical staff, and that they worked together to get Dempsey back on the pitch. Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said, “we’re not going to throw him out there unless we are 100% sure, the doctors are 100% sure, and he’s 100% sure.”
Dempsey also spoke with national team coach Bruce Arena late last year: “we had a good talk, I owe a lot to Bruce, he’s the one who first picked me to be with the national team and to help me achieve my goal and dream as a kid to play and score in a World Cup.” Even though he hopes to get back into the national team picture as soon as he can, his priority is to improve his fitness and help the Sounders win another MLS Cup.
To get him over that final fitness hurdle, from 85-90% to 100%, Dempsey’s plan includes “getting good sleep, eating well, taking care of your body, some of the same stuff you’re doing before,” but he stressed that getting quality sleep is the most important part for him.
Dempsey is also pleased to pick up where he left off with Nicolas Lodeiro, as the Sounders’ two best players played only a handful of games together before Dempsey’s medical setback. “Looking forward to getting back onto the field and trying to make an impact and playing with not only him but with the rest of the team.” He called Lodeiro “the missing piece” for Seattle, and praised how the Uruguayan playmaker “gets the ball moving and is able to make things happen more for us in the attacking third especially.” Dempsey also praised Lodeiro and the rest of his teammates for their “incredible” MLS Cup run last season, and said that even though he was unable to train, he tried to support the team as much as he could last year.
Aside from attending as many of the team’s matches as possible and getting treatment for his condition, Dempsey spent the rest of his time away from soccer doing some of the things he loves: “spent time with my family, was able to use my down time to do some fishing, do some hunting, kind of get away from things.” He said that if he did have to make the tough decision to end his soccer career, he was more than happy with what he’d accomplished. “I feel good about everything. I come from Nacogdoches, Texas. The first house I lived in was a trailer house in my grandma’s back yard. I’ve come a long way, to be able to have a family and take care of my family is one of the biggest blessings in the world. I feel good.”
But luckily for him and for the Sounders, he’s still got much more to give on the soccer field. “Just right now the focus is on getting through this year, get back to playing good again and making an impact on the field.” Schmetzer was adamant that, when Dempsey’s ready, there’s no doubt that he will make that impact for the Sounders. He said that he “would be a bad coach” if he didn’t put the “greatest soccer player this country has ever produced” in his starting lineup when he’s back to full fitness.
But in terms of Dempsey’s future after the 2017 season, he said that he’s not sure what’s going to happen, but he does hope to play in his fourth World Cup in 2018—if the USMNT are able to qualify. “It’d be awesome, it’d be a dream come true to play in four. First you gotta qualify, the team’s in a tough situation right now...Nothing ever comes easy, and I think the boys will be able to do it again.”
But even though he said that he’s “at peace” with his career so far, Dempsey certainly doesn’t see an end to his career anytime soon: “It’s good to be back out here playing again, and I think there’s more years to play. I just want to enjoy it and have my kids see me play a few more years.” But Dempsey stressed again that his sole focus right now is to get back to his best, and use that to win trophies with the Sounders. “It was fun to watch, the guys really battled like warriors and brought the Cup home for the city, which was the main goal of the season last year,” Dempsey said, “and hopefully we can defend that and have another really good year.”